Disagreeing with Your Boss, the State Bailout Fallacy, and Misleading Crime Stats

Plus: Harmful transparency and more management news

Are you frightened to disagree with your boss? We're curious and hope you'll let us know. We promise not to attribute any of the responses to anyone in any way. We were inspired to ask by an intriguing post from the Farnam Street blog:

"An interesting aside on how power affects organizations: people tend to agree with people in power. The unwritten rule is that your opinion is valued if you agree and not valued if you don't-We think people are right because they are powerful. I'm sure we've all heard of the CEO who read a book on a plane comes back and speaks the gospel of insert-business-best-selling-guru-here and all of the sudden the organization is bending over backwards to move forward on this new 'insight' and prove them right. And since very few are willing to stand up and say, 'hey, hold on a second here, let's think about this,' we move from one best seller to the next with the organization dragging behind. This creates an illusion of progress and has disastrous implications for an organization."

So what do you say: Do you feel free to disagree with your boss? E-mail us and let us know!


Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois held a press conference at the end of May in which he talked about legislation he was pushing to make sure the federal government didn't bail out state governments that are presumably teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. "With this resolution, we are preventing an era of bailouts for states and local governments," he was reported as saying in The Hill.

This feels to us like the much-storied cure for which there is no disease. While there may be some well-publicized instances of places like Jefferson County, Ala., facing edge-of-the-cliff problems, none of the states come anywhere near falling into that category. "No state is asking for a bailout," Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers affirmed to us. "Nobody in state government is even talking about bankruptcy or bailouts."


Crime statistics are often reported per 100 in population or per 1,000. At face value this seems to make sense. But think about it for a second. In many cities, the population grows dramatically during the daytime, and all those commuters are potential victims of the bad guys (or, we suppose, they're potential bad guys themselves). So there's every chance that the success of the police, measured by crimes per 100 residents, can be misleading in cities with large commuter populations. We started thinking about this thanks to an insightful op-ed in the New Haven Register.


Are there ever instances when transparency doesn't best serve the public interest? We asked B&G readers about this a couple weeks ago. The opinions we received were mixed. Some people suggested that transparency is always a good thing. Others took a more middle-of-the-road approach. As might be expected, though, nobody came out wholly against transparency.

We were particularly taken by comments from John Wintersteen, retired chief of police in the town of Paradise Valley, Ariz. He provided two instances of meetings that he felt would not be "fruitful if they are open to the media":

"While my elected officials were very dedicated and not generally given to 'politicking and grandstanding' at meetings, there was always a temptation for one to do so. Also, when they're not willing to give their honest opinion, for fear of being quoted or misquoted, it's hard for staff to tell what they expect from us — this could lead to an 'ambush' at a public meeting. So if we wanted a free discussion, with give and take, we couldn't have the media present. This meant that we invited three or fewer of our Councilmembers, as meetings of this type where a quorum was not present did not trigger Arizona's open meeting laws. As police chief, when we had a serious situation to discuss, one we could not afford a 'leak' of information that would damage an investigation or compromise a prosecution, these non-public meetings were crucial.

"High level staff meetings, including with possible vendors and others with whom we could end up negotiating, were never a place where we accepted media. In most cases, until staff gets the facts and a position gels and is researched, having the media present was likely to 'freeze' something before it was developed."


Here's a great source for information: Department of Numbers, a blog that puts government statistics into context. It's reliable and used by major economists. Recent data examined include numbers about emissions, housing prices and inventory.


And another: the 2011 State Legislative Search Guide. This was developed by researchers at the Prevention Research Center in St. Louis, who recognized that "individual public domain state legislation databases were usually as comprehensive as the prohibitively expensive subscription databases that compile legislation."


A classic quote from John Tukey, famed statistician: "Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise." (Hat tip to the Genuine Evaluation blog for steering us to Tukey's comment.)


Friends and colleagues have probably grown sick and tired of hearing us go on about a water crisis that we believe will inevitably hit the United States in the not-too-distant future. This is a topic near to our hearts, and as a result, we were more than happy to hear about a most impressive pilot program in Dubuque, Iowa.

In short, the city and IBM partnered with other organizations to provide "151 Dubuque households with information, analysis, insights and social computing around their water consumption for nine weeks," according to a press release. These homes were compared with a roughly equal number of pilot households. The sophisticated technology allowed participating households to be alerted "about potential anomalies and leaks and were able to get a better understanding of their consumption patterns and, compare and contrast it anonymously with others in the community." The families engaged with the analyses were able to see their data expressed in dollar savings, gallon savings and carbon reduction. (Full disclosure: We write a column for the IBM Center for The Business of Government.)

Result of the Dubuque partnership: Some 89,090 gallons were saved among 151 households over nine weeks, and if extrapolated to a full year, this would be a savings of 514,742 gallons in total, or 3,409 gallons per household annually. Pretty impressive.


Bullying in schools is a hot topic these days. We think that's more than justified. But assembling useful data about bullying can be tricky. Katie Weaver-Johnson of a Nebraska-based consulting and Web-services firm has offered up the top five mistakes schools make when assembling data on bullying. You can find the firm's blog at blog.awareity.com:

  1. Failure to clearly define bullying (harassment, discrimination, violence, teasing, hazing, etc.)
  2. Failure to encourage/ask their students and or allow individuals to easily and confidentially report incidents, which can lead to undercounting cases.
  3. Lack of accountability, including the absence of follow-up to indicate whether individual problems have been addressed and resolved.
  4. Failure to keep thorough records. Documentation of all reports and actions taken are critical in a day when "deliberate indifference" lawsuits are on the rise.
  5. Need for more effective programs implemented based on the data gathered. Simply completing a survey or study doesn't actually make change.

The spiraling cost of health care is the monster that threatens to devour state budgets. But a recent post on the Economist's View, a blog from an Oregon economics professor, raises a fascinating question: How much of the increase in health-care costs can be attributed to actual improvements in health care? If you get more value for something that costs more money, that's an entirely different thing than spending more for exactly the same thing.

Think about it. If we turned back the clock and got rid of, say, all organ transplants, the cost of health care might decrease. But an awful lot of people would be sicker or no longer living.

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